Puerto Ricans were recruited as part of Operation Bootstrap. This industrial stimulation plan decreased Puerto Rican sugar and agricultural production and
attempted to stimulate industrial production by granting tax breaks to companies that relocated to Puerto Rico. The number of Puerto Ricans displaced from farming, however, did not match the low numbers and low wages of jobs created through the industrialization program. In order to mediate the growing labor force and income deficit, Puerto Ricans were flown into Connecticut in 1952 to support tobacco, textile, metalwork, and agricultural industries in Windsor, Hartford, and Waterbury. There appears to have been virtually no state-wide planning for the educational, health, and cultural needs of the new Puerto Rican population in the state.21 The influx of the large number of Puerto Ricans in Connecticut grew exponentially from 1950 to 2007, with Connecticut now ranking with the largest percentage of Puerto Ricans in the United States and Hartford with the largest per capita population outside of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Ricans were employed in four major areas of Connecticut’s economy: a declining manufacturing sector, that included the textile industry (such as American Thread in Willimantic); small manufacturing in Waterbury; the poultry industry (dominated by Hartford Poultry22 and later Kof-Koff Egg Farms); and tobacco farms. Hartford became the closest urban center for Puerto Ricans who decided to settle in Connecticut after participating in the tobacco industry, whereas Waterbury and Bridgeport became destinations for the Puerto Rican outmigration from New York City that largely began in the 1960s. The service industry, tobacco seasonal work, and blue-collar jobs provided the basis for the community’s economic survival in Hartford.
The religious community, including both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations, participated in serving the growing Spanish-speaking community in Hartford. In 1959, the director of the San Juan Puerto Rican Catholic Center in Hartford, Attorney Joseph Kenny, in collaboration with the Connecticut Council of Churches, called for the Connecticut legislature to investigate the living and working conditions of migrant farmworkers. Raoul Mercado, a social worker at the center, also testified that thousands of Puerto Rican migrant farmworkers were forced to live in conditions without running water, sanitation, or cooking facili-ties.23 In 1960, The Greater Hartford Council of Churches provided leadership in creating positions to serve the community, at both staff and pastoral levels.24
Willimantic’s Latino population became predominately Puerto Rican in the 1960s, as they were recruited to work in the thread mill and then in the surrounding poultry and landscape agribusinesses. With the decline and eventual closure of the thread mill, Willimantic became an increasingly economically depressed community. With very few options for advancement in the workforce, many Puerto Ricans remained in the changing poultry industry and found new employment venues in agriculturesuch as the mushroom industry (closed in 2007) education, and the landscape (green) industry.
During the 1940s Cubans were reported to have participated in foundry work in Waterbury.25 Perhaps this is why Connecticut was chosen as one of the many
destinations for political refugees in the 1960s. The largest influx into Connecticut occurred as part of the U.S. airlift of Cubans exiting after the success of the Cuban Revolution. From 1965 to 1966, 1,627 Cubans were formally resettled in Connecticut.26
Migration from the Dominican Republic, frequently through New York City, also became part of the growing heterogeneity of the Latino population in Waterbury, Connecticut during the 1960s. In this case, urban women appear to have formed the backbone of this new immigrant group into the Waterbury economy, in contrast with the largely rural farming experience of the first Puerto Rican migrants into the community.27 Expatriate participation in D.R. elections has substantially increased since the granting of dual citizenship status in 1996.
The Hartford riots, which broke out in 1969, provide a venue for discussing the difficulties that the Puerto Rican community faced in terms of police brutality, political neglect, and community representation. In 1970 the Hartford Courant began a Spanish-language column that addressed the specific concerns of the growing Latino community. The first issue noted the continued low levels of Puerto Rican and black employees on the police force. The monumental changes that occurred as a result of Puerto Rican community organization and leadership development in managing community ethnic relations, as a result of the explosive situation in 1969, made possible the leadership that came to fruition in the twenty-first century.28
The economic conditions of Latinos in the northeast worsened from 1970 to 1990, particularly in urban areas. This was a result of the general decline in industrialization in the northeast as well as poor economic growth in the United States. Also, during this period it became evident that prison sentences and conviction rates for Latinos in general, and specifically Black Latinos, were higher than the either African American or European American populations in the United States. Perhaps significantly, within the Latino population, Cubans received lower sentences, when compared with similar crimes, than either Puerto Ricans or Mexicans.29